Saturday, September 24, 2011



In the two-party system of American politics, citizens are ultimately forced to choose between two candidates selected by their respective parties, though neither may represent their interests or points of view.

This goes out to all those voting members of society who consider themselves Republicans or right-leaning independents who hold sway over the shape of government to come: I know that for a variety of reasons from the economy to his legislative record to the swagger in his step to blatant or latent racism, many of you despise Barack Obama.

You despise him at such a visceral level you cannot imagine pulling the lever that awards him a second term under any circumstances. But as you look at the field of Republican candidates, can you honestly imagine electing any of them president?

The current field of nine candidates can be broken down into three tiers.

Third tier candidates are purely symbolic. Some may have an issue or a philosophy to promote. Some are simply clinging to political relevance and wish to hang on to the public spotlight as long as possible. Some may actually believe they have a chance to catch lightning in a bottle when the whole world outside the family circle knows they do not.

Leading the third tier is the pizza man, Herman Cain, who was invited to the party to serve as the token member of a racial minority. The Grand Old Party was in need of a new face after Michael Steele was pushed out as Chairman of the national committee. Where Steele was entirely too reasonable on any number of issues, Cain adheres to the rightwing policy agenda without exception. Could anyone really imagine the Republican Party nominating an angry black man to face Obama? We like his triple-nine game plan (reminds us of the Beatles’ White Album) but his time is about to expire. Don’t forget the pepperoni!

Newt Gingrich is the old-timer of the third tier candidates. Newt has not had a new idea since the 1980’s but he does have a new book to sell. The idea that Gingrich is an intellectual is pure mythology. He’s a fast talking peddler of used goods who lost his sales base to Wal-Mart in 1994 but never lost his pitch. He’s Willy Loman, the tragic father in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with a hard-dying dream of Alaska and better days. He’s an old man with a young wife and a lifestyle he can no longer afford.

Newt’s only hope is that someone will take him on as a vice presidential mate due to the paucity of viable options. Slim hope indeed.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum must be baffled. His party has moved to his Christian fundamentalist, far right positions on every issue from immigration to abortion rights to equal rights for homosexuals yet no one seems to like him. Maybe it’s his support of animal rights or former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter or maybe it’s that Dan Quayle look in his eyes as if nothing is going on in there beyond a rehearsal of his next line. His function in this campaign is to challenge the frontrunners for any lapses on rightwing policy – notably immigration.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul once again joins the Republican field to become the face of libertarianism. On that level, his is a noble cause. The trouble is: He is too often politically tone deaf and his particular brand of libertarianism is far too compromised. Granted, a pure libertarian would rightly be accused of anarchism. Still, no libertarian should ever wish to impose his morality on others, as Paul would do on abortion and gay marriage, and no libertarian should ever be allowed to fall back on states’ rights as the congressman so often does. In this round of Republican debates, “states’ rights” has become a means of avoiding hard issues and inconsistencies. Mitt Romney should not be allowed to do so with mandated health insurance and Paul should know better. It’s a pandering position and weakens his portrait as a courageous leader.

The congressman deserves credit for making his antiwar, anti-empire policies acceptable to his party. His truth telling on the tenth anniversary of September 11, however admirable, would have sealed his fate had it not already been ordained.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson made a surprise appearance in the recent Florida debate, staking his claim to the libertarian banner. He supports replacing the current multilevel tax system with a consumption tax, an idea with considerable merit. His presence could push Paul to live up to the libertarian creed.

The question for the third tier candidates is: How long can they last? The money is drying up and hope is fading fast.

To a large extent, the same is true of the two members of the second tier, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Both began this campaign with a base of financial and political support. Both find their prospects diminished for distinctly different reasons.

As the only woman in the field, it is impossible to see Bachman as anything but a stand-in for Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin. Bachman was catapulted to fame by an odd exchange with MSNBC host Chris Mathews, in which she advocated an investigation into the un-American attitudes and activities of fellow members of congress. Mathews quickly painted her into a corner. It was as if she had never heard of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the infamous witch-hunt of the 1950’s. Paradoxically, the exchange gave her status and a loyal constituency in the far right. She became a leading fundraiser and when the Tea Party came along she was first on board.

Despite her frequent gaffs, her presidential campaign was gaining traction until Governor Rick Perry entered the contest and promptly stole her thunder. Bachman’s slender thread of hope now is that the Tea Party will tire of their new hero or that the Texas Governor will shoot himself in the foot.

Jon Huntsman entered the race hoping that at some point Republicans might decide they want to win the general election. He was poised as an alternative to fellow Mormon Mitt Romney whom nobody loves and the Tea Party hates. Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty had the same idea but he had no stomach for hardball politics. Huntsman is still standing but with each passing debate it is becoming clear that he has no place in today’s Republican Party. He is not strong enough, angry enough or ideologically pure enough. Unless party dynamics change he will drop out before the primaries begin.

In all probability, the Republican standard bearer for 2012 will be decided between the two top tier candidates: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

There are two ways of looking at the Governor of Texas and both have validity. One is that he is George W. Bush only taller. The other is that he is Mitt Romney with a drawl.

Like Romney, Governor Perry has had to reinvent himself. It is hard to imagine that this Texas tough guy, proud of his state’s record of putting hundreds to death during his tenure, and stubborn as a Laredo mule, once was a Dixie Democrat who had no reservations in supporting the candidacy of Albert Gore against his predecessor in the Governor’s Mansion.

Did Perry have a revelation? Did a partisan God come down from the mountain to transform the Democratic state representative who voted for a $5.7 billion dollar tax increase into a staunch anti-tax, anti-government Republican? Or was it pure political opportunism?

The governor pivoted quickly enough from a Social Security Ponzi scheme to Social Security reform. He squirmed and stammered in Florida where his stance is electoral suicide. It was Florida and the Jewish vote he had in mind when he issued his decree on the Palestinian question. With an analysis that would fail to penetrate the skin of a teenaged girl, Perry declared that he favors Israel no matter what the Israelis or the Palestinians do or say. The Neocons have found a home with Perry the Panderer and who knows but that he just might win. Stranger things have happened.

Perry presaged his presidential candidacy with a Christian fundamentalist extravaganza and some media planted stories about the Texas economic miracle. Reporter Rich Wartzman of the LA Times made the Governor’s case with this pointed proposition:

“If you care about putting people back to work when nearly 14 million are unemployed, maybe Texas has something to teach us.”

With the latest census data on poverty in America, the counterpoint is clear:

If you care about putting food on the table and a roof over your head at a time when nearly 50 million Americans are living below the poverty line, maybe New Hampshire has something to teach us. Certainly not Texas.

With an economy bolstered by what Mitt Romney termed four aces (no income tax, anti-labor laws, a Republican legislature and oil), Texas ranked 49th of the fifty states in the number of its citizens living below the poverty line. If you think that’s unfair because it doesn’t account for the number of people living in the state, you’re right. It’s unfair to California. On a per capita basis, Texas ranked 46th, ahead of Alabama, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi.

That is what the Texas economic model is all about. Perry brags about the number of jobs he’s created but he never mentions that those jobs were insufficient to lift Texans out of poverty. If you’re a typical Texan, you work at a minimum wage job or worse, you have no health or retirement benefits, and you’re struggling to survive.

Nevertheless, both Perry and Romney have made it clear that they believe Texas is the pride of the nation and they want to bring the Texas model to the rest of us. If you live in Alabama, New Mexico, Louisiana or Mississippi, that might be good news. If you live in the other 45 states (other than Texas), it does not bode well.

America’s most famous Mormon since Joseph Smith, Mitt Romney was governor of liberal Massachusetts for a brief four years. During his tenure, he supported and opposed civil unions for same sex couples, supported and opposed abortion rights, supported and opposed stem cell research, and of course sponsored the most comprehensive government sponsored health care program in the nation. As a presidential aspirant, Romney found new love for the National Rifle Association and signed the anti-tax pledge.

Romney has an explanation for every change of policy but the more the people listen to him the more they realize there is nothing there. He believes whatever the polls tell him to believe. He wants to be president and everything he says and does is owing to that ambition.

As a businessman, Romney was responsible for eliminating more jobs than he ever created. As co-founder of Bain Capital, he specialized in leveraged buyouts, buying companies and enforcing layoffs to boost the bottom line. Romney made a fortune on the misfortune of workers and always gave a liberal tithing to the Church of the Latter Day Saints. He is just what the corporate doctor ordered: His expertise is austerity, by which he means austerity for us and prosperity for the elite.

Now Romney wants to lead the nation. He speaks with great admiration for the Texas economic model of mass poverty, cheap workers, corporate free reign, anti-labor laws and bountiful oil.

He is in fact the last person on the planet that should be president at this time – unless of course that honor goes to Governor Rick Perry.

I am by no means enthralled with the prospect of a second Obama term but given an alternative from this field of opportunists, panderers and pretenders, there is no choice at all.

Is it too late for a third option? Maybe. Maybe not. The electorate is yearning for someone to stand up to China and India. The people would line up from Bakersfield to Bangor, Maine, from Tampa to Tacoma, to support a viable candidate who offered a simple pledge: Bring the jobs back home!

The opportunity for a true labor candidate is so clear and powerful I would not be surprised if we didn’t soon find the slogan plastered on Mitt Romney pamphlets and bumper stickers with a claim of copyright.

Of course, in his hands it would be an outright lie.